Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Rob Torr & Stephanie Graham
Meet Rob and Stephanie. I didn’t know them before a few weeks ago when my friend Stephen, who had worked with them, suggested they’d be great for this project. I said sure and noted to get in touch. He’d told me a bit about them and the show they were putting on. Less than a week later, I was working at an arts market and into the market that Sunday afternoon, swings Robin Hood and Maid Marian (Rob and cast member Cynthia Hicks) doing a little live PR for their show, Robin Hood: A Merry Magical Pantomime. I said ‘Rob’? He looked over and after I introduced myself, he laughed. What were the chances that we would meet by happenstance just a few days after I’d heard of him/the show? As my mom used to say, the universe works in mysterious ways.
We meet at the Legion on Coxwell near Gerrard, the night before the opening of their show. It’s empty but for a few cast members going over their steps/lines/songs. The theatre lays in wait. “Did you know this was the very first legion in Ontario?,” Rob asks. “That’s why it’s #001 Legion”. Who knew? He gets a bit sentimental about that fact and one of the reasons he wants to perform the show there. “We can’t let these places die. Vets need them. Communities need them. It’s preserving the good and the real. It’s also why we sing O Canada before each show.” I love that. I look around. The place does need some repairs. And a bit of a facelift. I agree we can’t let these bastions of support disappear. “This is why we hope to bring the Panto here as an annual tradition”. Stephanie rushes in and joins us. They talk about how the ‘house’ looks tonight, the phone rings, they are folding programmes. I laugh. “I think I picked the worst night ever to try and chat with you guys”. They laugh. They’re used to it. Anyone who has worked in theatre is used to doing 10 things at once.
Both of them have been involved in live performance from very young ages; Rob as a singer in the Ontario Youth Choir, then the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and after studying vocal music at McGill, was part of the quartet in the musical, Forever Plaid, followed by a role in the Toronto production of Miss Saigon. Since then, he’s sung, danced and acted his way through Mamma Mia, White Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, Fiddler on the Roof and many more. In 2008 he and Stephanie formed their own company, Torrent Productions. Their first production, Hipcheck: The Musical, was a play about women in hockey, co-written/produced with their neighbours Shelley M Hobbs and Joan Jamieson.
Stephanie grew up in/around Waterloo, going to see shows at Stratford, dreaming of one day performing there; which she did in 2003, 2005 and 2007, after graduating from Sheridan College in Musical Theatre. She toured for 13 years all over the country; Charlottetown Festival, Stratford, regional and summerstock theatre, before transitioning to a Dora award winning choreographer and director in 2008. Her credits are endless and include Crazy for You, It’s A Wonderful Life, Godspell and Mary Poppins. She’s also worked with Drew Barrymore, Woody Harrelson, Colin Mochrie and Donna Feore.
The two met in PEI twenty-odd years ago when they were both working on different productions in Charlottetown. She in Johnny Belinda and he in Godspell. They’ve been together ever since. You can tell they’re a match made in heaven. They bounce ideas off each other, have fun, work well together and grew up in the small world of theatre in Canada. “It’s nice to have someone who understands the industry and the sacrifices you need to make because he’s making them too,” Stephanie says of their marriage. “This production is especially fun for us. Our cast in Robin Hood are people we’ve worked with for years and some great new talent we’ve seen emerging. The production is 99% professional equity actors. As we’re spread far and wide much of the year, it’s so great to get everyone back home for Christmas and do this show together.”
Rob and Stephanie have been living in Leslieville for 11 years now, with their 2 Portuguese Water Dogs, Teaghan and Ceilidh. Aside from their love of live theatre, their ties with the community are strong. “Our street closes down on Halloween and we have a helluva party. This year? 291 kids.” They talk fondly of their older neighbours, several of who have been living there for 50+ years, and that’s part of the reason they love this community. “The mix of people in our neighbourhood is amazing; young, old, well off, not so well off, yet everyone seems to gel. That’s really important to us.”
If working, performing, directing and living theatre isn’t enough, their love of the authentic and preserved stretches from their own community to country Ontario. They own 3 cows from the Lynch Line, Rare Breeds Canada. Once a prolific breed they are dying out. How they got to be owners of 3 cows is another story unto itself, but suffice to say it’s a little like theatre: they’re trying to keep an important cultural breed alive, well and flourishing in Canada.
Robin Hood: A Merry Musical Pantomime is playing at the Royal Canadian Legion, 243 Coxwell Ave until Dec 24th. Check your local listings. Support local theatre! You won’t regret it. A truly great time.